Playwright N. Richard Nash, who wrote “The Rainmaker,” died Dec. 1 in Manhattan. He was 87.
Nash also wrote for television and films.
He was born Nathan Richard Nusbaum on the south side of Philadelphia. While a young man, he boxed for $10 a fight before pursuing more cerebral enterprises at the U. of Philadelphia. There Nash studied English and philosophy and after graduation published two philosophical works, “The Athenian Spirit” and “The Wounds of Sparta.”
But fiction turned out to be Nash’s true calling, and in 1940 he won an award for his first play, “Parting at Imsdorf.” This initial success helped him secure a position as a drama instructor at Bryn Mawr College.
In 1946, Nash made his Broadway debut with the comedy “The Second Best Bed” which centered on Shakespeare and his relationship with Anne Hathaway and brought Nash to wide critical attention. He followed up with the short-lived dramas “Young and Fair” in 1948 and “See the Jaguar” 1952.
On Oct. 28, 1958, “The Rainmaker” opened, quickly becoming Nash’s most popular and profitable play. Set in drought-stricken Kansas, it tells the story of a plain farm girl named Lizzie Curry, who encounters slick-talking, self-proclaimed “rainmaker” Starbuck. Geraldine Page starred as Lizzie.
The play has since been widely performed and has been translated into 40 languages. A 1956 film version starred Katharine Hepburn, Burt Lancaster and Lloyd Bridges and in 1982 a television version featured Tommy Lee Jones as Starbuck. (Indeed, it started out as an NBC teleplay before going to the stage.). More recently, a 1999 Broadway revival starred Jayne Atkinson and Woody Harrelson. Nash himself also transformed the play into the successful musical “110 in the Shade,” in 1963.
Also for Broadway, he produced the Lucille Ball starrer “Wildcat” as well as “Sarava” and “The Happy Time,” the latter two for which he wrote the books.
Nash also wrote screenplays for film and television throughout his career. In 1947, he helped write the screenplay for his first film, the comedy “Welcome Stranger,” starring Bing Crosby and Joan Caulfield. From then on he worked steadily, writing for several films including 1959’s “Porgy and Bess.”
In 1977, Nash published the novel “East Wind, Rain” about the bombing of Pearl Harbor and just this year finished a novel, “The Wildwood.”
Nash is survived by two daughters and a son.